9th May 1945

Guernsey was liberated from German occupation

Few events have had so profound an effect on the Channel Islands as the German occupation. As the only British soil captured by German forces during the second world war, their population endured five years of German rule and, towards the end, near starvation.

Although the occupying power had banned all radios (and, where possible, confiscated them), enough remained on both Guernsey and Jersey for news of the war – and its coming to an end – to filter through. By early May, everyone, both local and German, knew that the Axis powers were beaten. It was only a matter of time before the islands were freed.

As the days passed, the Royal Navy made radio contact with the German authorities, and a rendezvous was agreed. It would take place in Channel Islands waters on Tuesday 8 May, now known as VE (Victory in Europe) Day.

First German, British meeting

In the event, the German surrender was a fairly pitiful affair. HMS Bulldog and HMS Beagle sailed from Plymouth to meet the German representatives off the Channel Islands.

As a reporter for The Guardian described it,

…we saw the German surrender ship. She was a dirty, battered minesweeper her sides red with rust, the paint on her superstructure chipped and discoloured. It seemed crudely fantastic as we watched, to see, heaved over the side of the trawler, a three-foot-by-six rubber dinghy. Three Nazi sailors climbed into it, followed by a young naval officer carrying an attaché case. This youth of not more than 23 or 24 was the German emissary. He sat in the stern of the dinghy, his seat a few inches from the water, the waves sweeping up and soaking him from the waist downwards.

The wet emissary was Arnim Zimmermann (seen on the right, below. Brigadier Snow is opposite, sitting second on the left). He gave the Nazi salute when he boarded the Beagle, then went below deck to meet with brigadier Snow, who also supervised the liberation of Sark and Alderney on the 10th and 16th May respectively.

Zimmermann on Bulldog, prior to the German surrender of the Channel Islands

The surrender didn’t happen right away. Zimmermann hadn’t been authorised to sign anything other than an armistice, which would start just after midnight the following morning. Snow pointed out that anything less than an unconditional surrender would not be accepted. He sent Zimmermann back to shore with surrender documents. In return, Zimmermann warned Snow that the Bulldog and Beagle would have to retreat. Otherwise, their continued presence would be taken as a provocation and they’d be attacked.

Second meeting, and liberation

At midnight, the Germans saw sense. Zimmermann returned with Major General Heine, who agreed to the surrender before he was allowed to board the Beagle. By seven o’clock the following morning – the 9th May – the papers had been processed and signed. Within the next quarter of an hour, the islands had been liberated.

Snow dispatched a small band of British soldiers to secure the islands. As The Times reported,

Twenty-two men of the Royal Artillery went to St Peter Port, Guernsey, to take over the island with a garrison of 10,000 Germans… The tiny force formed up on the docks, fixed bayonets, and marched towards the dock gates, behind which were cheering men, women and children. The church bells were ringing tumultuously and every house had its Union Jack bunting, saved through five weary years. Then the crowd broke through the dock gates, and embraced the artillerymen. Somehow they reformed and two girls with great Union Jacks led them into the town to the old Court House where Victor Carey, the Guernsey Bailiff, stood. The Union Jack was broken out and the crowd sang ‘God Save the King’.

 

FREE Guernsey history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Guernsey's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want. We'll also keep you up to date with our latest book releases and early-bird discounts.

 

Other events that occured in May

Priaulx Library opens for the first time 1st
Horse racing returns to L’Ancresse race course 2nd
Guernsey deportee, nurse Gladys Skillett was born
“Twink” goes missing on its way to Guernsey 3rd
Role of Chief Minister of Guernsey abolished 4th
Guernsey Airport opened for business 5th
Alderney debated in the House of Commons 6th
Songs of Praise comes from Guernsey 7th
Final issue of Deutsche Guernsey-Zeitung was published 8th
Guernsey was liberated from German occupation 9th
A Guernsey retiree’s £1m offer attracts 57,000 requests 10th
A liberation celebration ended in disaster 11th
Guernsey plays Tottenham Hotspur 12th
Guernsey’s telephone wars broke out 13th
British papers reported Dame of Sark’s deportation 14th
The States of Guernsey bought Aurigny 15th
Alderney was liberated at the end of the second world war 16th
Herm goes back on the market 17th
A mainland murder with a Guernsey connection 18th
Guernsey declared a State of Emergency 19th
Wartime diplomat Wilfred Gallienne born in Guernsey 20th
Hauteville House is bequeathed to the City of Paris 21st
Guernsey poet and painter Denys Corbet was born 22nd
John Doyle was appointed Lieutenant-Governor 23rd
The Imperial Hotel opened for the first time 24th
Elizabeth College is founded in St Peter Port 25th
Game of Thrones actor Roy Dotrice was born 26th
Head of Guernsey CID is shot in St Peter Port 27th
Work started on the Victoria Tower
Guernsey’s first paid constables were hired 28th
Guernsey woman advised to leave for her safety 29th
Occupation stories occupy the mainland papers 30th
“Overdose” verdict in Guernsey farmer’s death inquiry 31st